The negative side of autonomous vehicles – no more AA Roadside Recovery Service

What do do when the Panic Button is missing? Call the AA obviously!

I’m not excited about autonomous vehicles. There’s a lot been said about the benefits of the autonomous vehicles that we’ve been promised will arrive in the next few years. On-demand use, energy efficiency, less congestion, improved safety, high reliability etc etc. But I’m not so sure…

The ‘reliability thing’ (never breaking down and leaving you stranded on the roadside) has two negatives in my view; first the loss of jobs for the people who provide this type of service and second, the opportunity to experience a first class service that sets a benchmark for others to aspire to.

Life on the road(side). About once every 18 months something happens to a car I’m driving and I have to call the Automobile Association for help, (the motoring AA, rather than any other type of AA organisation)

The type of mechanical problems I’ve had vary from; self-inflicted (putting petrol in a diesel car) through to the latest super complicated engine management sensor lights dashboard disco – that terrifies me, especially when the self destruct one starts winking.

On every occasion, I’ve called the AA and once they’ve have finished I’ve been left feeling overjoyed and grateful that my immediate (and most serious) problems have been solved. I’m also left deeply impressed by a level of efficiency and customer service that I don’t often see in lots of other things I encounter, particularly in some public services.

Don’t trust me – listen to a Doctor. You don’t have to take my word for it, have a look at this article by Dr Jessica Drinkwater published in the British Journal of General Practice; ‘The AA: What should we learn from the 4th emergency service’.  The article pretty much sums up my experience; efficient, human and thought provoking…

Two things that happened in Dr Drinkwater’s experience with Tim the AA Recovery Technician are similar to what I’ve experienced and are worth pointing out:

  • Shared decision making. The process of agreeing ‘what to do next’ with Tim was, in the view of Dr Drinkwater, an example of shared decision making. For anyone interested in the co-production of public services, or greater involvement of people in the services they use, this is an important point. If AA Technicians have got it nailed, what’s stopping everyone else?
  •  Adjusting communication to fit the audience. Tim and Dr Drinkwater had a conversation about communication and the need to adjust your style to fit with the audience. In the view of Tim (who’d seen a few) many GP’s aren’t very good at this, and it was something that Dr Drinkwater took away from the encounter (and wrote about in the journal article).
This tableau looks very progressive for the 1970’s.

Rescued from Llantrisant. Just a few things to add from my experiences last week.

  • Work place poetry in motion. I love watching how people do their jobs and Steve my AA Technician was an expert. Every movement was carefully choreographed and carried out with maximum efficiency. No ‘huff and puff’ or forcing things to work. It all went perfectly and he had plenty of breath to answer my incessant stream of pointless questions. Why isn’t everything like this?
  • A continuous improvement masterclass. Steve had modified some of his kit to make things work better. Half a tennis ball attached to the temporary light board webbing ‘spreads the load’, so that my car windows don’t get damaged. Beautiful! And there were other nice touches like ‘clean’ straps kept up front in the drivers cab so that my car didn’t get dirty.
  • And I was rescued. The whole experience felt like a very pleasant morning, with a knowledgeable neighbour who’d popped around to help me with my car. I felt slightly embarrassed at the end having to ‘rate’ Steve on the ‘paperwork’ – a mobile phone. A ‘smiley face’ just didn’t seem enough…

We’ll lose all this with autonomous vehicles. At the risk of sounding a bit weird and ‘needy’ I’m going to miss being rescued by the AA Technicians. When completely reliable autonomous vehicles roll into town what jobs will the AA Technicians do? What will I do when I need to be rescued from Llantrisant?

For South Wales that will of course be about 10 years, after they are commonplace in London, which I’d like to think of as an opportunity  – there’s so much to learn.

The AA Member and the ‘salute’. Finally, I did end up digging into a bit of the history of the AA. They were formed in 1905, initially to help members avoid police speed traps, which is where the ‘salute’ comes from. Apparently the salute was a ‘secret code’ to warn Members about speed traps ahead. If the AA Officer didn’t salute, the Member knew something was ‘wrong’. It’s worth a read of this article about the AA. which includes the fact the AA was a Mutual, owned by the Members up until 1999 when they were demutualised.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. I’m not recommending you get your car to break down but, it is a great learning experience and it leaves you feeling happy (well, it works for me).
  2. AA Technicians seem to have; shared decision making, advanced personal communication skills, customer service, technical mastery, problem solving and continuous improvement nailed. All graduate recruitment schemes could involve a few months on the recovery vehicle – imagine what people would learn.
  3. Autonomous vehicles might not be totally good news – look at what we might loose.
The ‘Salute’. I had one of these books years ago. I wish I’d kept it.

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

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